Frontline Initiative Code of Ethics

The RIGHT Decision Method:
An approach for solving ethical dilemmas


Annie Johnson Sirek, MSW is a Project Coordinator at the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota. She thanks Marianne and Julie of the Human Services Research Institute, and Amy and Derek of the University of Minnesota, for developing this method to use in daily practice and training.

What is an ethical dilemma? 

An ethical dilemma requires a person to define right from wrong. But, as Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), we know that this is not so simple. We face difficult decisions in our daily practice. There are often many different rules, principles, and opinions at play. We are called to respond in allegiance to the individuals we support. The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) Code of Ethics provides a roadmap to assist in resolving ethical dilemmas.

How do I resolve ethical dilemmas? 

Ethical dilemmas can be resolved through effective decision-making. Since we are so often called upon to make independent judgments, it is important to incorporate the NADSP Code of Ethics within our daily practice. Many ethical dilemmas can be resolved easily with consultation and reflection. However, some issues cannot. Therefore, to help make it easier to solve difficult ethical dilemmas, consider a framework from which to work. The College of Direct Support has provided an approach to ethical decision-making with the NADSP Code of Ethics. This is called the RIGHT Decision Method. 

RIGHT Decision Method 

  • Recognize the ethical dilemma.
  • Identify points of view.
  • Gather resources and assistance.
  • Have a plan.
  • Take action based on ethical standards.

What is the RIGHT Decision Method? 

Sometimes there really is a “right” way to make decisions under difficult conditions. The RIGHT Decision Method gives us tools to make sound ethical decisions and resolve ethical dilemmas. RIGHT is an acronym that stands for each step of the decision-making process:

R: Recognize the ethical dilemma. 

The first step is recognizing the conflicting obligations and clearly stating the dilemma. It is important to recognize and use the NADSP Code of Ethics as you begin with this step. You may consider —

  • In what ways is the Code of Ethics applicable to this issue?

I: Identify points of view. 

The second step is identifying points of view in the situation. This means considering the viewpoint of the person receiving services, your colleagues, other parties involved, and the NADSP Code of Ethics. Restating the problem clearly to someone else can also help you check out whether you have interpreted the situation accurately. It is important to understand how the person receiving supports feels. Consider —

  • What does the person receiving support expect?

  • Then think about others who are involved in the situation and how they feel.

  • What do these individuals want or need?

G: Gather resources and assistance. 

The third step is gathering resources and assistance that might help you figure out what to do. Now that you have an accurate understanding for the problem and various perspectives, this step encourages you to consider other people who may be able to assist you. You may also need to find important information. For example —

  • Are there agency policies that could be considered? What do these documents say? Are there any laws or regulations in the state that may influence your decision-making?

  • Is this a situation where legal advice is needed? Does the person have a legal representative who must be involved?

  • Are there community resources that might help resolve the problem?

H: Have a plan. 

The fourth step means that you are ready to make your decision. Formulating a plan will help you decide the best way to put your ideas into action. Once you have considered the following issues, write a plan down and identify step-by-step actions that you plan to take —

  • Whom must you speak to first? What will you say? What preparations will you make?

  • What steps can you take to ensure the best possible outcome for your decision?

  • How might people react?

T: Take action based on ethical standards.  

The fifth and final step is implementing the plan you developed in the manner you decided. Then, it is important to monitor its success using the success indicators you identified in the planning process to help you reflect on your decision —

  • What worked well and why?

  • What did not work well and why?

  • What would you do differently after you have evaluated your outcomes?

  • Taylor, M., Silver, J., Hewitt, A., & Nord, D. (2006). Applying ethics in everyday work (Lesson 3). In College of Direct Support course: Direct support professionalism (Revision 2). DirectCourse.